Pay raises would cost about $70K

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Lincoln County officials say their budget should be able toabsorb the approximately $70,000 cost of a county officials’ payraise bill that was approved last week by the MississippiLegislature.

On average, county officials would receive pay raises ofapproximately 20-22 percent under the bill that is awaiting actionby Gov. Haley Barbour. Barbour has expressed some displeasure withthe pay raise measure, but he said Monday he would not blockit.

The raises would take effect Oct. 1, the start of the county’snew fiscal year.

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County Administrator David Fields said the county’s budget wouldnot be pinched this year by the bill’s passage. Next year’s budgetcould be realigned to include the pay raises, but he didn’t believethe county would require a tax increase to fund them.

“We’ll have to get the figures and plug them in to see where weare,” Fields said, “But the budget looks good this year.”

Fields added that while the pay raises alone may not constitutea tax increase, one could not be ruled out at this point because ofother budget decisions to be made later this year. Those decisionscombined could force one.

Unlike previous bills, counties do not have the option of notgiving the raise. Supervisors, however, have the option of denyingthemselves the raise.

Fields said he was not opposed to the bill’s passage.Supervisors, especially, would benefit from the raise, he said.

“It’s not so much a part-time job as people believe under thebeat system,” Fields said. “They’re out there eight hours a daymanaging their crews. None of our five supervisors have anotherfull-time job.”

Lincoln County Board of Supervisors President Bobby J. Watts,representing District Two, agreed.

“I don’t know why the state has supervisors classified the waythey do,” he said. “It’s a full-time job, not a part-time job, ifyou do your job right.”

Lincoln County supervisors, with an annual salary of $33,548,bring home $1,600 a month, he said.

“I’m not fussing for a raise. I knew what the job paid when Itook it,” Watts said.

The supervisor admitted the current state budget crunch and aslowly-recovering economy may make it a bad time for a payraise.

However, Watts said elected officials should have salaries highenough to attract people who can do the job well. Without thatattraction, he said, it may cost the county more in the long termwith candidates who may not be suited to the job.

It has been eight years since any county elected officialreceived a raise.

The bill raises a supervisor’s salary to $40,400, an individualincrease of $6,852.

District Three Supervisor Nolan Earl Williamson agreed with allWatts said, but did not believe he would vote for the raise.

“I’m not saying I couldn’t use the money or I don’t thinksupervisors need it, I’m just not sure the county needs to do thatright now,” he said.

Watts added that the legislature should consider smallercost-of-living raises annually or by term rather than a largeincrease each decade.

“It would be easier to adjust to and have less effect on thebudget,” he said.

The sheriff would receive a $10,400 raise.

The sheriff’s salary is based on total county populationaccording to the latest federal census. Under the bill, with apopulation of approximately 33,000, Lincoln County’s sheriff wouldbe paid $62,400.

Justice court judges would see a pay increase of $5,465 underthe bill. The increase puts their salaries at $32,789.

A justice court judge’s salary is also based on countypopulation and is in addition to any other fees, costs orcompensation authorized by law for their office.

Tax assessors and tax collectors could see an increase of $8,988in pay. Tax assessors/collectors would be further rewarded fortheir double duties with a $5,000 bonus.

“Some counties are split, with one person doing the assessingand one person doing the collecting. You only get the $5,000 bonusif you do both,” said Lawrence County Tax Assessor/Collector SherryHyde Thames.

With the bonus, Thames’ salary would increase from $43,512 to$57,500, a jump of $13,988. Lincoln County Tax Assessor/CollectorNancy Jordan would receive the same increase.

Circuit and chancery clerks were included in the bill, but donot benefit largely from a direct pay increase. The clerks are paidaccording to the fees they discharge while performing their dutiesand do not have a direct salary. The bill, however, raised theirsalary cap from $83,000 to $90,000.

Any fees generated once a clerk reaches their cap is transferredinto the county’s general fund.

Chancery Clerk Tillmon Bishop said he did not know how the billwould affect him.

“I haven’t really been keeping up with it to tell you thetruth,” he said.

The legislation also includes pay hike provisions for courtreporters, riding bailiffs, constables and county prosecutingattorneys, whose salaries were not included in the total figuregiven for the county’s cost estimate.